Nikon L35-AF, Fujifilm 400
Gigs mid-heatwave are never the most pleasant, and the end of June was sweltering. There was nothing on anyone’s lips but complaints of the sweaty humidity, and even the vaguely quiet walk down Digbeth Street was heavy with stagnant lethargy. Men leaning against brick walls smoking straights, as if Central Birmingham had become a side street in southern Spain for just one afternoon. I staggered to a bench outside Mama Roux’s, under the not yet lit sign in some art nouveau font announcing the venue’s presence. Linen shirt sticking to my back I took a moment to breathe.
Head spinning. I glided almost drunk into the dimly lit New Orleans bar. Those starry spots dancing under my eyelids from the gloom. Fairy lights can’t quite match unrivalled midsummer sun. I take a pint of water from the edge of the bar and down it down in three gulps. Hydration is no joke. As I wander upstairs to the balcony, I can’t help but think how much cooler it is inside than out. Surely that can’t be right? Venues are sweaty. That’s the rules. Not this somehow well circulated paradise that I’ve entered; I think, gazing at my reflection in stark bathroom mirrors. I think that I’ve missed the first support band, but I can hear the first few chords of something, so I amble back down catch the start of Girl Ray’s set. Leaning against a pillar in the centre of the room. I almost regret that I hadn’t listened to them more before, as the songs they play just glide through my ears and out the other side. I recognise Trouble, from a forgotten Spotify playlist, so I nod my head a little more, and clap a little louder at the end. They have a refreshing energy and diversity in their music. Girl bands are scarce in this weird faux rock ’n’ roll scene of ours, and this is a breath of fresh air (down my neck, between my shoulder blades).
I lean against the wall outside. Eyes swim with vague recognition. I don’t care enough for anyone I see to approach them. Residing in some calm place of loneliness. As I contemplate wandering back inside a man with an Irish accent drags me over to him and his friend. We talk about art and Dublin, and contemplate political situations. Only vaguely. They check their watches and appear to know more about stage times than I do. As they slowly turn inside, I wave them away. I refuse to burden anyone with my presence, “I’ll catch you later,” I lie with a smile. In a moment I’ve been called over to another bench, where a man tells me to get the best roast dinner of your life in some back alley of Hereford. I laugh that I don’t eat meat, and he frowns,
“Wait, you’re not a Tory are you?”
I laugh again. This city is my escape from small town rural politics. They wander inside and I stay, thinking how it’s too hot to be smoking in 35 degree heat.
This isn’t California.
Slightly hazy on my feet, I hear the first few notes of Dave’s Song. A boy next to me rushes to crush his cigarette but under the heel of his left converse. The black one. I recognise the riff, recognise Max’s hand movements as he plays it; just at a faster pace than me on my nylon string acoustic at 5am. This song is how I fell for the band. Fitting that it’s the first they play. Such a delicate start, which soars into a chorus that hits you right in the pit of the stomach. Although melancholy, I find an inking of hope in this song. Perhaps futile optimism, but the crescendoes and calming repetitive melody set me at ease. By the time the trumpet kicks in towards the end, interspersed with Julian’s “woo hoos”, the crowd is swaying with tranquil vibrations, cut short by the finality of the songs abrupt close. Almost reflective of the themes that the lyrics themselves deal with.
The band launch themselves straight into the next song: No Matter Where We Go, which seems immediately more upbeat than the first. I brush past people I know too well, and stand at the front camera in hand. I know that cheap daylight film will do me no favours, but still I push past strangers to the front. Where the real photographers stand, who had the energy to contact a promoter and get in for free. None of my photos are amazing, but I’m absorbing the music too much. Feeling too much noise, not enough vision. This song is more positive, but still retains that almost hopeless optimism that Dave’s Song brings. Either promising or begging it is hard to tell. The next song, Polly, clearly establishes Light Upon The Lake as the breakup album that it is. The almost out of tune vocals set the chords on edge, creating an unnerving sensation, which only seems to increase as the drums and wind section kick in, “No No no no no, if only…” presents a continued hopeless longing. Accepting yet futile.
The trumpet solo at the end flows effortlessly into Red Moon, a lack of vocals for which Julian seems apologetic. Call and response of piano and trumpet starts the almost jazzy tune turning around I half grin at how fitting it is to the faux New Orleans bar in which they play. Vibrato on trumpet was always hard, but more than ever I find myself wishing that I had never given up playing the trumpet myself. Trumpet solos are underrated, especially in the genres of music that I tend to listen to. I curse my thirteen year old self, for thinking her chapped lips and red face were uncool. Imagine the solos I could play now, if only I had cared less.
During You’ve Got A Woman, I stand further back. My flash can only be hurting people’s eyes, and I justify my obtrusion in the sea of Instagram cameras that I now see in front of me. Even the pretentious social media deniers can’t leave this undocumented. You’ve Got a Woman flows lucidly into Golden Days. It’s poignant and sets the crowd swaying. Inside is now hotter than out, and sweaty denim jackets bob with Julian’s almost hypnotic rhythm. Somewhere towards the end of a song, a man in his mid twenties throws a water bottle of gin on stage. Straight. The band laugh in ridicule,
“Like fuck am I drinking that, man”,
and the bottle is thrown back into the crowd.
As the first chords of On My Own kick in I feel myself laugh inwardly at the song’s vague irony. Solitude is the most comforting thing at gigs. You feel everything more acutely, and my loneliness isn’t melancholy. The set drift on through The Falls and Follow, to rest, swaying, on the theme from Golden Girls. The band had never watched the show, and neither had I, but it retained some kind of familiarity to it, flowed with their other material. Its hard to know which of their songs is a cover or an original. Magnet I mistook for another original. Wondering vaguely why the crowd seems to know most of the lyrics to an unreleased song. The man with the bottle of gin is still bouncing at this point. I think I saw him later, head in his hands, trying to break into the band’s tour bus. Futile.
I’m dragged back to a sense of focus by No Woman. Cohesion again. The opening trumpet part pulling everyone back into the calm solitude of Julien’s lyrics. Soft confusion in the minor key of his vocals, everything is uncertain again. Hazy and incoherent, yet still recognisable. But the set is sad again, and the overwhelming sense of loss that threads its way through the entirety of Whitney’s latest releases is incessantly visible. The weight of confusion. and too much alcohol, pressing above everybody’s browbones. No Woman’s final chord fade off into the indigo air, sending us spinning once again into the forgotten streets of Digbeth. Left startled on a sweaty summer night after sundown.
Whitney’s next LP, Demo’s from Light Upon The Lake, will be released on the 10th of November.
Digbeth was bleak enough to bathe in, on Tuesday afternoon. Stumbling out of the car to load a roll of film, I ambled, dreamlike, through the underpass and down, down to the custard factory and it’s lights of nostalgia. I lingered for abnormally long, revelling in lonely exhilaration. The grey sky on the 29th of May was wonderful.
I thought that I had missed the first band. Lazy smile in my minds eye. Floated in, on compliments of £3 jackets.
Francobollo had started their set as I ducked into Mama Roux’s dark interior. The title track of their new EP kicked the evening off to a ‘groovy’ start, as my dazed self noted. A bit of synth running through the tranquil guitar lines. 20:08 and already rocking out. I found myself swaying as it lulls like a Willie J Healey song, just a slightly different dream state. Turn around on my heels, to see the kids piling in. Lowering the average age demographic, yet mingling with inhabitual ease with the elderly couples disproportionately scattered before the stage. “You could have everything that you want, but you gotta give it time”. The song fades to crazed applause, and the band, their first time in Birmingham, slide into the next song of their set. ‘Finally’ struck me as being more chill from the offset, but quickly crescendoed into something a little heavier. Almost chilling whispered vocals. This is something more than the generic indie scene. ‘Worried Times’ came next, after a week of radio play. Synths going mad, and with a drawn out instrumental. I remember thinking that the vocals didn’t come soon enough for mainstream radio’s taste. As tends to be the case with all the best songs. The almost summery vocals vibrated through my head, as it rested on the wall. Maintaining their established theme of increased delicacy, surging. I can’t see the stage when they finish.
I go outside, still stumbling on nothing but exhaustion. I offer a lighter to the girl leaning against the wall wearing dungarees, she teaches at a high school and is friends with Marika’s bassist. I ramble about art for a while. Spinning stories of London futures. I feel the most that I have for a while. I never caught her name. “There’s a bottle of wine in the van”, laughs a girl, as she rounds the corner. Marika and Jelly, drifting on nerves, well concealed in cans. We talk for two minutes, like old acquaintances, and slip inside.
As Our Girl played, I drifted to the front, not burdening anyone with my prescence for too long. I’m not here to be heavy; stagnant. Head on the speaker I thought I might go deaf with chilled rock. Pangs of guilt at the stark flash from my camera. I can’t remember what songs they played, for the autofocus meter at the bottom of my eyeline. I sunk into the music like a sea of sound, filling my head as sound only can at too many decibels straight into your left ear. There is something in listening to a band for the first time live. Something lodges in your ribcage somewhere. I leave early, leaning on the speakers can’t be good for my hearing, and its too stiflingly hot at the front. My nonchalance won’t accommodate it.
Then outside again, and guy with a guitar. “The promoters are brutal”, he half laughs, sincerity in his grin. I can tell in his generous calm that he’ll make it soon enough. An abnormal amount of time was spent talking about art with strangers that evening. Again I don’t stay for long. Grateful, but that night my existence was selfish. I rise to leave as the man on the door sparks up a conversation. I don’t have the headspace, and the sound of the band on stage drags me inside. Some magnetic force to that sweaty sphere of sound.
It’s hot in that room, done up like a New Orleans bar. The band say so, laughing. These things always are; sardines in unrefrigerated basements. ‘My Lover Cindy’ and ‘Violet’ I can place, as my feet sink into the floor, not the same but still too close to the speakers. The set sways for a moment and then I don’t recognise the song. Not sure if it was new, or just uremembered. The lyrics are almost ballad-like, of a girl who killed the sun. I think of The Sun newspaper and laugh again. If only. I don’t remember the next song either, but I can recall turning to look at the people sat up on the steps, swaying in fairy light haze. “That was the first time we’ve played that version”. ‘Time’s Been Reckless’ is the next track, apology sodden lyrics. The bassist drinks in the instrumental, and I can feel the world swirl. A girl at the front holds up a lighter, and my vision blurs with the boy next to her, who’s been swishing his hair for almost an hour. His head must be spinning. Him and his friends link arms, dancing, almost on the stage as Marika announces their last song (almost last). ‘Boyfriend’ fills the room with dancing. The only real kinetic madness of the evening, bouncing around the room. Live wire.
“I’m gonna take it all the way down”, she says next, and as the band leaves she breaks out the riff; ‘Cigarette’. More lighters come out now, perhaps fitting for the song’s title. Even the kids at the front just sway now, and I can see that on stage, her trainers don’t touch the pedals once. Drifting. A tranquility returns, that always slips away with more than one person on stage. Fingerpicked melodies are refreshing now. Cleansed with lazy raw vocals. Almost too soon it’s whisked away. A new song, ‘Blah Blah Blah’ comes last. The band come back, and the reverberations start to hurt my ears again. A welcome discomfort.
Marika’s album is out this Friday, check her Spotify here
Photos taken on Nikon L35AF, on Fujifilm 400ISO film
Saturday evening was stuffy with spring. Too warm for fur coats and not quite a Velvet Underground song, we stumbled outside. Into night and the freedom confined on a balcony, suspended above some provincial town on the outskirts of Birmingham.
The woman painting, enshrined in crystals and fairy lights peered into gloom, past our ghost faces. I imagine her turning on the light in her small kitchen the next morning. Cereal bowls Sigh. It was a Romantic yet impractical concept.
Horizontal eights on(not on) our wrists, sang of young adult novel, irony lost, as the world spun.
Bands limboing under half hearted ropes. Don’t drop those pedals. We sat in a makeshift paradise of soft chairs. Halfway between the smoke adorned sky and buzzing beer garden below. We were kicked out for not being in a band. Elitism exists in the most minor degree, and this time, musical laziness took the brunt.
Half-crippled by ill-chosen footwear we stood quietly on metal slats, and spoke unsteadily about boys that don’t exist. Auctioned smoke spun balloons. So quietly they could probably hear, despite the miles distance between us. Pretty boys have good hearing.
I pressed my head against the window, Cool Patterned Glass. Exhaustion pressing my heels up into my skull, camera around my neck as if 45mm of lens was all that held the sky.
Photos on Minolta SRT 100X, 45mm lens and Kodak Colourplus 200
JOKERMAN – BOB DYLAN
What inane list of vaguely pretentious songs would be complete without a bit of Dylan. Thanks to my dad, and the power of DAB in the form of radio six, Infidels is all that’s been humming around my brain of late. Released in 1983, Jokerman is classic Dylan, with a bit more groove. Not that it still won’t make you cry.
XMAS AT SPOONS – GINGER
I hate Christmas songs. I can stand a bit of classical, but new Christmas singles (predictably) drive me mad. But there’s something different about Ginger’s new Christmas EP – Baby it’s War Outside. I think I cried the first time I listened to it. The reality of every word hits me with an empathy I didn’t know I possessed. Brutal honesty with a few bells in the background. Don’t save the queen, save the NHS.
BEAST OF BURDEN – THE ROLLING STONES
On the latest LP shoved in between my chest of drawers and desk is Some Girls by the Rolling Stones. Filled with groovy tunes, dancing round my bedroom has become a bit of a thing of late. And I can’t dance. Beast of Burden is such an absolute tune though, and I find myself nudging the needle back to the B-Side’s penultimate track time and time again. Just for those “pretty pretty girls” harmonies.
SATELLITES – WILLIE J HEALEY
Willie J Healey will always have a special little place in my heart. There’s something uplifting in his sombre tones, and something different about this latest EP – Hey Big Moon. With an added poignant quality, and the feel of bedroom demos, I can’t help the feeling that I’m floating in pools of morning light and linen. If my dreams had a soundtrack, it would be this.